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SMTP 521 Reply Code

Network Working Group


Request For Comments: 1846
Category: Experimental
Authors: A. Durant, F. Dupont
Year: September 1995
Link: https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc1846
This rfc[1] is based on the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP)[2]. It defines a
new reply code-521[3] and it will be used to indicate that the internet host
does not accept incoming mails.
Problem:
Today, the hosts on the internet are more distributed, smaller in size and more
specialized in tasks than ever before. Hence, some hosts do not provide mail
service as they dont run SMTP server. Thus, when mails are diverted to such
servers then they remain there for certain days waiting for SMTP servers to start,
in the lack of it they are returned back with an unclear error message.
Solutions:
There are two possible solutions
1. Usages of MX (mail exchanger)[4] relay to return back mail destined to
SMTP-less host along with 521 reply code. MX relay of all the priorities
should work similarly as mentioned above.
2. Run a minimal SMTP server to return back all the mails. This method
contains of certain steps:
Step 1: Send the 521 reply code along with the computers IP address to
the sender
(incoming SMTP Connection).
Step 2: Close the SMTP connection or wait for 5 minutes for Client to issue
Quit command and then close.
On receiving the 521 reply code the Client must understand that it is not
any transient error and for the same not to re-queue the mail for later
delivery to same system and there is no need of postmaster[5]
requirement. As postmaster are required to process and handle emails
with error, whereas 521 reply code suggests hosts inability in accepting
mails, which is not an error.
On receiving the 521 reply code, client should either try resending the mail to
alternate MX host or return the mail along with the reason of delivery failure.
Conclusion:
Thus, 521 reply code helps in distinguishing mails that face error in getting
delivered from the one that are being delivered to host which does not accept
incoming mails. This differentiation enables Client to take decision accordingly
and treat both the cases accordingly/differently rather than treating them alike
which does not solve the purpose and results in delayed and inaccurate delivery.
For understanding the above concepts the below links were visited:
[1]. https://www.ietf.org/rfc.html
[2]. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simple_Mail_Transfer_Protocol
[3]. http://www.greenend.org.uk/rjk/tech/smtpreplies.html

[4]. http://www.crucial.com.au/blog/2012/09/17/undestanding-mx-records-mailrelayauthentication-and-open-relay/
[5]. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmaster_(computing)